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Cultivating Gratitude During the Holidays: How to Teach Your Kids to Be Gracious and Give Thanks This Christmas


I have a lot of respect for those parents who “don’t do” Christmas. I know a few of them. While I’m sure their reasons for eschewing the holidays are actually quite complex, I like to imagine that, aside from the obvious (say, they’re Jewish), they’re just not buying into the empty traditions of a holiday season rife with religious and commercial undertones. Despite its good intentions, Christmas becomes a buy-fest, pushing otherwise fiscally responsible parents into crazed over-spenders and turning sweet, polite children into green-eyed gimme monsters. So I get why some parents would choose not to involve their families in it at all. But it’s also, undeniably, a feel-good time of year.

I love Christmas. I love decorating the tree listening to Bing Crosby, the eating, the drinking, the general merry-making with family and friends. I wholeheartedly get into the Christmas Spirit. Whatever that means exactly, for me it usually involves presents. I love giving gifts — especially to my daughter, which leaves me conflicted: I want Coraline to embrace the legend of Santa, without fostering materialism or entitlement. I want her to understand the joy is in the giving, not the receiving. I want her to be gracious. A tall order for a two-year-old. 

The week before Thanksgiving the New York Times ran this article on gratitude, which claimed that “cultivating ‘an attitude of gratitude’ has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others.” Motherlode blogger KJ Dell’Antonia referenced this fact a few days later as she as she contemplated how not to raise “entitled, bratty, ungrateful little weasels.”

After all, who wouldn’t want happier, calmer, kinder, healthier kids — and maybe to be all those things themselves, too? While cultivating gratitude is a year-round task, it becomes an epic challenge during the most gift-oriented holiday of the year. So here are a few suggestions to get you through the next week.

  • Model gratitude Mind your manners. Remind yourself of all the things you have to be grateful for, including your crazy, Santa-obsessed toddler.
  • Teach them “please” and “thank you” Say it to them, say it in front of them, and when they start speaking, insist they say it too (or at least try).
  • Emphasize “it’s the thought that counts” Start a conversation about what makes a nice gift. Ask your child what they think would make someone they love happy. When they write to Santa, have them ask for a gift for someone else, too.
  • Practice giving Before the deluge of presents hits, sit down with your child and decide which toys and clothes they’ve outgrown that can go to charity or a friend in need.
  • Have non-material traditions Whether its reading a special book or baking cookies, do something enjoyable with your child that celebrates the spirit of the season. You get to set the tone for your family.

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